The majority of my research career has been devoted to studying human happiness. Why is the scientific study of happiness important? In short, because most people believe that happiness is meaningful, desirable, and an important, worthy goal, because happiness is one of the most salient and significant dimensions of human experience and emotional life, because happiness yields numerous rewards for the individual, and because it makes for a better, healthier, stronger society. Along these lines, my current research addresses three critical questions: 1) What makes people happy?; 2) Is happiness a good thing?; and 3) How and why can people learn to lead happier and more flourishing lives?Why Are Some People Happier Than Others?I have always been struck by the capacity of some individuals to be remarkably happy, even in the face of stress, trauma, or adversity. Thus, my earlier research efforts had focused on trying to understand why some people are happier than others (for a review and theoretical framework, see Lyubomirsky, 2001). To this end, my approach had been to explore the cognitive and motivational processes that distinguish individuals who show exceptionally high and low levels of happiness. These processes include social comparison (how people compare themselves to peers), dissonance reduction (how people justify both trivial and important choices in their lives), self-evaluation (how people judge themselves), person perception (how people think about others), and dwelling or rumination. My students and I have found that truly happy individuals construe life events and daily situations in ways that seem to maintain their happiness, while unhappy individuals construe experiences in ways that seem to reinforce unhappiness (e.g., Liberman, Boehm, Lyubomirsky, & Ross, 2009; Lyubomirsky, Layous, Chancellor, & Nelson, 2015; Lyubomirsky & Ross, 1997, 1999; see also Boehm, Ruberton, & Lyubomirsky, 2021).
What Are the Benefits of Happiness?Is happiness a good thing? Or, does it just simply feel good? A review of all the available literature has revealed that happiness does indeed have numerous positive byproducts, which appear to benefit not only individuals, but families, communities, and the society at large (Lyubomirsky, King, & Diener, 2005). The benefits of happiness include higher income and superior work outcomes (e.g., greater productivity and higher quality of work), larger social rewards (e.g., more satisfying and longer marriages, more friends, stronger social support, and richer social interactions), more activity, energy, and flow, and better physical health (e.g., a bolstered immune system, lowered stress levels, and less pain) and even longer life. The literature, my colleagues and I have found, also suggests that happy individuals are more creative, helpful, charitable, and self-confident, have better self-control, and show greater self-regulatory and coping abilities.
Home » Book SummaryThe How Of Happiness: A Short, Insightful SummaryQuick Summary: In the book The How of Happiness, Sonja Lyubomirsky debunks the myth that a new job or marriage could make us happy forever. It is because the joy of better life conditions does not exceed 10% of our happiness. She also shares simple ways to boost our daily happiness through behavior changes called positive interventions.
A famous study on marriage shows the happiness boost of marriage only lasts for an average of 2 years.Though people do receive an emotional boost from highly positive events such as getting married, these initial boosts do not last indefinitely (Lucas, Clark, Georgellis, and Diener, 2003), as people tend to adapt to their life circumstances over time (i.e., to experience hedonic adaptation; Lyubomirsky, 2011).A marriage, or any other intimate relationship, that has entered the phase of hedonic adaptation, makes one feel bored, dissatisfied, and neglected, and they stop paying attention to their partner. It is a crucial factor fuelling divorce or breakup.If after about two years, married couples return to their baseline happiness, then what are the secrets of keeping a marriage happy and satisfying?
Your section on religion and happiness is powerful and persuasive. And yet you are careful to point out elsewhere in the book that your findings are grounded in scientific rationalism. Do you have any problem in reconciling religion and science, either personally or professionally? Could you delve more deeply into what has shaped your thinking in this area?
I also know that so much unhappiness can come from wanting. Wanting, wanting, wanting. And yes, that wanting can sometimes serve us, but more frequently it leads to unnecessary suffering. A meditation practice is so crucial to building and maintaining an awareness of what really matters in life.
The premise of The How of Happiness is that 50 percent of a given human's long-term happiness level is genetically determined, 10 percent is affected by life circumstances and situation, and a remaining 40 percent of happiness is subject to self control.
[O]nly about 10 percent of the variance in our happiness levels is explained by differences in life circumstances or situations--that is, whether we are rich or poor, healthy or unhealthy, beautiful or plain, married or divorced, etc. If with a magic wand we could put [a group of people] into the same set of circumstances (same house, same spouse, same place of birth, same face, same aches and pains), the differences in their happiness levels would be reduced by a measly 10 percent.
One of the great ironies of our quest to become happier is that so many of us focus on changing the circumstances of our lives in the misguided hope that those changes will deliver happiness... An impressive body of research now shows that trying to be happy by changing our life situations ultimately will not work.
The implication is that almost all efforts to increase and maintain happiness through changes in life circumstances are doomed to fail. Even the most positive changes will eventually be taken for granted as we adapt to them, and their long-term impact on our happiness will be minimal.
The remaining 40% of our happiness is determined by our behavior--intentional activities that we might call "happiness strategies." This is the core of Lyubomirsky's thesis: We can't alter our genetic set points, and changes in life circumstances don't have a lasting impact on our happiness, but we can increase and sustain our happiness through intentional activities:
The bulk of "The How of Happiness" is devoted to exploring a dozen (well, actually 14*) activities described by Lyubomirsky as "evidence-based happiness-increasing strategies whose practice is supported by scientific research." These include:
And Lyubomirsky believes it's essential to choose happiness strategies that best address the sources of our unhappiness, that take greatest advantage of our strengths, talents and goals, and that can be adapted most readily to our needs and lifestyle. She offers a Person-Activity Fit Diagnostic and encourages readers to focus on the four strategies with the highest "fit scores."
Over the past year I've felt increasingly happy, and at the moment I believe I'm happier than I've ever been. Some of this has to do with my life circumstances--I've been blessed with a rich and rewarding marriage, I love my work, and I live in one of the most beautiful cities in the world. But according to Lyubomirsky, all this has far less of an impact on my happiness than my daily behavior, the intentional activities that I pursue on a regular basis.
In December I became involved with a team that was working on a new class at Stanford, and each member of the team had to read several books as part of our background research. As I reviewed the list of possible texts, I was immediately drawn to "The How of Happiness," and while reading it I was struck by the parallels between the conclusions she had drawn from her academic research and my own experiences. And although I've always had an intuitive sense about the value of intentional activity, now I'm trying to apply Lyubomirsky's findings on "happiness strategies" to my own life even more deliberately.
The experience of flow leads us to be involved in life (rather than be alienated from it), to enjoy activities (rather than to find them dreary), to have a sense of control (rather than helplessness), and to feel a strong sense of self (rather than unworthiness). All these factors imbue life with meaning and lend it a richness and intensity. And happiness.
OK, now that I understand the concept and its likely positive impact on my happiness, how do I actually experience flow? Lyubomirsky offers several suggestions: Control your attention in order to be "fully engaged and involved" in a given activity, adopt values of openness to new experiences and lifelong learning, heighten awareness of flow experiences and strive to repeat them, and seek out challenges in your recreation and your work.
I started climbing last summer, but found it too physically taxing to go regularly. So I spent the rest of the year getting into better shape--more on that below--and just began climbing again recently. I still can't do it too often--my muscles can take the strain, but my joints still ache afterwards--but that's fine. I'm not interested in becoming an expert climber--I just want to be able to stop by once or twice a week, boulder around the wall, and lose myself for 30 or 45 minutes.
Lyubomirsky cites extensive research showing a causal link between expressions of gratitude and a sense of well-being, and she notes 8 specific ways in which gratitude increases happiness: Gratitude "promotes the savoring of positive life experiences," "bolsters self-worth and self-esteem," helps us cope with stress more effectively, fosters attitudes of helpfulness and appreciation, "build[s] social bonds," minimizes social comparison, diminishes negative emotions, and, most importantly, "helps us thwart hedonic adaptation" [which allows us to extract greater and longer-lasting feelings of well-being from the positive aspects of our life circumstances]. 2b1af7f3a8